The Role of Librarians in the Inclusive University
by Margot Schenk
At the first Status of Women workshop held by the Canadian Association of University Teachers on the topic of the inclusive university, I raised the question of library collections. My comment was received politely but participants hastened to move on to more "relevant" issues. Why is this the case? Do we all take for granted that university library collections are based on the principles of intellectual and academic freedom and that these principles will automatically lead to an inclusive academic library? Perhaps the library is simply forgotten. Perhaps the academy assumes that the library collection just happens, not recognizing that it is designed volume by volume as an ever-changing, growing entity.
Libraries are inclusive to the extent that their materials and access points represent the values and interests of both men and women, persons of diverse cultural and ethnic origins, differently abled persons, and persons of different sexual orientations. The principles of academic freedom, when applied to libraries, should lead to inclusive university libraries; however, I suspect that many of our university library collections are somewhat exclusive.
While preparing this paper, I sent out a message over the Internet to an electronic discussion list concerned with intellectual freedom. I asked list participants to comment on the possibility of systemic barriers in our purchasing and cataloguing practices. Only one respondent thought I might be a little cynical, while most eagerly described how systemic discrimination happens at their institutions.
A professor of collection development at a Canadian library school said that he was impressed with the degree to which selection of materials in libraries is a matter of submitting to a machine--one that is designed, maintained, and operated for the benefit of a few very large publishers. He planned to spend more time teaching the issues of finding and selecting alternative materials. An American librarian said that she guards against bias by ordering materials she "hates" for 10% of her budget. She felt that if we all did that cooperatively, balanced collections would result. Other Canadian respondents talked of the ease of buying mainstream materials and the difficulty of cataloguing non-mainstream materials, both of which mitigate against an inclusive diverse collection.